One of the 1990s’ quintessential bands is back, on form and playing in Lancashire next week. MALCOLM WYATT spoke with Dodgy’s Mathew Priest about fame, fortune and gigs on the village hall circuit
It’s been four years since chart and festival favourites Dodgy, best known for hits like Staying Out for the Summer and Good Enough, came back in style, 15 years after double-platinum selling third album, Free Peace Sweet.
Their comeback LP, Stand Upright in a Cool Place, garnered some rave reviews and media plaudits, the band clearly enjoying each other’s company again.
This was no retrogressive step either, Dodgy displaying a certain chemistry and plenty of creativity on a recording The Word called ‘the record of their career by a country mile’.
On that offering, lead vocalist/bass player Nigel Clark, drummer/backing vocalist Mathew Priest and guitarist Andy Miller gave echoes of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Fleet Foxes and more. And now they’re building on that with an album they reckon is their best yet.
First time round, Dodgy were only together seven years but sold more than a million records worldwide, releasing three albums and managing 12 top 40 singles, at least two remaining staples of radio playlists.
Our fans are a bit older and don’t want to go out on a Sunday...Dodgy
This was a hard-partying band too, and while their original fan-base may be a little longer in the tooth, they’ve returned with a vengeance to that live scene, an important part of the Dodgy experience.
Recently, they’ve gone down a storm at Feastival, BT London Live, Camp Bestival, V Festival, Glastonbury, Wychwood, Strawberry Fields, Hardwick Live and Kendal Calling, to name but a few big shows, with many more in Europe.
Dodgy – now augmented by fourth member Stuart Thoy, who joined in 2012 and plays bass and harmonica – are all set to showcase new album, Hold Up to the Light, with their biggest UK tour in two years.
But first, they have a handful of smaller gigs, including Friday, August 7 at Ribchester Village Hall, of all places.
Before we get to that though, I’ve some catching up to do with Mathew Priest, who I tracked down to his rural base near Salisbury, Wiltshire.
This is clearly a band that puts in the legwork, Mathew having to head up to his native Worcestershire to rehearse, while Andy Miller drives up from London.
“We base ourselves in Pershore, where Nigel is, using a studio there, but you don’t really need to be too close these days, with communications as they are.”
The album tour starts at The Fleece in Bristol on October 23 and ends at Liverpool Arts Club on November 28, just two of their favourite cities.
“We got offered Eric’s and we’ve played there before and had a pretty good gig, but we were offered a Sunday or Wednesday.
“We could have done it, but I know what our fans are like now. They’re getting a bit older and don’t really want to go out on a Sunday night.”
Was the old crowd was back with them again when they reformed, or was it a case of going back to square one?
“We split up in around 1998, just before the whole internet revolution and people getting PCs – or at least before Facebook, iphones and all that.
“Back then, the community of fans was literally built through gigs, physical newsletters and interviews. In a way we weren’t as intimate with our fans – so to speak – as we are now. But now it’s a real family.”
That’s opened everything up, not least to crowd-funding initiatives and so on.
“Yes, but as soon as you do you’re almost saying you’re a cottage industry and don’t need the wider world.
“It’s changing a bit, but there’s an attitude that bands are funding themselves so they’re not really proper anymore.
“That’s unfair because there are a lot of great records coming out through all that, but we’ve avoided that so far.”
You say you don’t want to be seen as a cottage industry, but your only show in the North West this summer – next Friday, August 7, in Ribchester - suggests you’re on the village hall circuit.
Mathew laughs, but then adds: “Well no, not quite! That’s down to Carl, of course.”
That’ll be Carl Barrow, the Ribble Valley-based head honcho of Hollow Horse Events, a great believer in bringing national bands to under-used community venues.
His CV for such events – not only at Ribchester, but also Chipping, Hurst Green and Whalley - has already included Midge Ure, Nick Harper, Ian McNabb, Lisbee Stainton and The Travelling Band.
“Yes, and he’s passionate about all that. He booked us for Hurst Green originally. That went well and we came upon a great band supporting us that night, The Ragamuffins.”
The Ribchester date is the third of four ‘fan gigs’ arranged by Dodgy, with the others in Devon, Gloucestershire and Shropshire.
“What I love is how organic these gigs have come about. They’ve not all been devilishly planned. People tend to contact us and ask if we’ll play their local pub, and it’s generally people with Dodgy tattoos.
“The chap in Shrewsbury, for example, has a tattoo of us on his chest. Invariably they’re just lovely people. We’ve made lots of lovely friends, and it gives us a chance to be informal, play lots of songs from the new album, play a lot longer, and have a really good chat.
“At one we had a mass pop quiz, and with quite a few of these coming up, we decided to call these ‘fan gigs’, specifically getting in a lot of songs from the new album.”
I saw Lisbee Stainton at the same Ribchester Village Hall venue last year, in another Hollow Horse Events show. It’s a very intimate venue, shall we say.
It will be a different vibe with Dodgy, but as long as they can find it, I’m sure they’ll love it. But why Ribchester?
“We have a gig at Mugstock, near Glasgow, on the Saturday, so wanted to find something for the Friday. And again, this will be a nice build-up for the tour and the album too.”
So why is a band that once encouraged us to ‘keep the leaf burning’ now advocating we Hold Up to the Light their latest songs?
“The title’s down to Nige. We were in a rehearsal and he started playing this beautiful folky tune with a lovely melody. I just said, ‘Wow! What’s that lyric? Hold your dreams up to the light? That’s lovely!’
“Nige said, ‘That’s not the lyric… but let’s call it that!’ So we wrote this song together and felt there was something quite special about that.
“This is a track that’s not going to be on the album, but we just loved the idea – like holding an old photo negative up to the light and it becoming positive.
“It could also be about seeing cracks in something, or the religious side of it all. There’s just something about that imagery, it felt good.”
Beyond Ribchester, there’s a further chance to hear the new songs streamed live over the internet in mid-August. Can Mathew explain what that’s all about?
“We got offered this gig, they film it and stream it live, and people can buy it. We’ve been trying out something similar via this app called Periscope, streamed live onto Twitter.
“We did a gig in South Shields, and there were 200 people following the stream.”
Was it at that gig that Mathew was posing for photos with Jade from Little Mix?
“It was! That was brilliant. I teach at an EBD school (for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties), and two girls there love Little Mix! They were made up with that.
“We have a guy with us from Blackburn. He’s more or less our ‘consumer’. He’s a dentist by trade, but loves the band and has become part of the management team really.
“He helps keep us in touch with what fans will like and what they won’t. He liked the idea of the stream and talked us into giving it a go.
“It’s certainly a great way for fans in Australia and America to see us without coming over.”
Next year it will be two decades since Free Peace Sweet and the peak of the band’s success. Did Mathew ever get to a stage where he couldn’t bear to hear Good Enough or Staying Out for the Summer on the radio or TV?
“I’ve never personally got sick of hearing them. That was always the dream, and we were lucky enough to have 12 hits, at least three or four proper crossover hits.
“It’s lovely, and a lot of people still get very excited when they hear those songs.”
Stand Upright In a Cool Place proved a great way to announce Dodgy’s return. But can Mathew explain that initial split and the 2001 Real Estate album from an alternative five-piece Dodgy (without Nigel) that followed?
“After all our success, the organisation got bigger, and instead of it just being me, Nigel and Andy, there would be two people between you and the singer, or a manager, or a guitar tech.
“Before you know it, you’re more like islands, with around 18 people on the road. The relationship between us started to break down because of that.
“Also, Nigel had two kids in quick succession at the end of the ‘90s, while me and Andy were still going out, loving all the premieres and parties.
“Nigel’s life had completely changed and it was different. But now it’s absolutely fantastic, and we completely and utterly learned from our mistakes – you don’t let anything get in your way.
“We were best mates, and are now, but let things get in the way back then. Me and Andy were quite bitter about our livelihood and our dream being taken away.
“We kind of limped on with a different singer. There were some really good moments, but it just wasn’t right.”
How did you get back together?
“We started getting a few offers through, which meant me and Nigel had to talk, including one about a God-awful TV programme called The Reunion.
“We got asked and out of courtesy went down to London, met, talked a bit, and realised it was a complete joke and didn’t want to do it.
“But it got us talking, and I was managing a band in Birmingham, so when I went to see them, I’d pop in to see Nige, and realised it was thawing.
“We took it slowly, and after a reunion tour - which was all about nostalgia - we realised there was unfinished business.”
Then came that comeback LP, and with it a whole load of great reviews for a more mellow Dodgy, more Fleet Foxes or Crosby Stills Nash and Young.
“We’d always been into Neil Young, and Crosby Stills Nash and Young were heroes of ours, and you’re always looking for a band that all of us agree on.
“When we first came together it was Jimi Hendrix and The Who, while Miller had his Genesis or Pink Floyd, I had my Small Faces or Otis Redding, and Nigel had The Clash.
“Similarly, Fleet Foxes were a band we all loved, essentially because they sounded like The Beach Boys and Crosby Stills Nash and Young.
“We had one track, Tripped and Fell, which was a blueprint for the album. Once we’d done that, we recorded it in this farm outbuilding, with this view of the Malverns.
“It was beautiful weather, and that just infused the music, giving it all a real mood and sound.”
Mathew sent demos out and got a great reaction, the trail leading to Matt Pence in Denton, Texas, known for recent work with Midlake and John Grant.
“We went over for a few days, these quintessential Englishmen in blazing sunshine, and he really brought out the majesty in that album.
“And we got the most phenomenal reviews, the best of our career.”
So is the new album part two of that journey?
“It’s a lot heavier, but also more poppy and commercial. Stand Upright was more like Homegrown, a guitar album. This is more like Free Peace Sweet, a lot more eclectic.
“We’ve got Vanessa from Ultrasound on three tracks. In places it sounds like Burt Bacharach, one song sounds like Black Sabbath, another like Primal Scream, one like Simon and Garfunkel …
“It’s just pushing things out, trying new sounds, but with more potential singles. Stand Upright wasn’t so much about that as the three of us coming together again.
“This is us laid bare!”
l Malcolm Wyatt is a freelance writer, with his own website at writewyattuk.com.
Tickets for Dodgy at Ribchester Village Hall are priced £10, available from Ticketweb via http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/dodgy-tickets/ or from Carl Barrow on 07824 488410.
And for the latest from Dodgy, including the album tour details, try the band’s official website at http://www.dodgyology.com/